Valuable tools

I am a retired engineering manager and a former ASQ senior member. I want to say the January issue of QP impressed me with its presentation of quality tools. For me, this issue emphasized the application of tried and true methods for producing consistent quality products that are essential in today’s marketplace.

I think you have achieved excellence in providing meaningful and useful information to quality engineers everywhere.

G.H. Lufkin

Steering off course

Although I don’t disagree with Mark Edmund’s comparisons of Japanese and domestic automakers’ defect rates ("The Big Three: Will a Bailout Be Enough?" Keeping Current, January 2009), I was very disappointed to see quality so narrowly defined. If you use a broader definition of companywide quality, as the Japanese do, it is pretty clear quality is, in fact, the problem for U.S. automakers.

General Motors (GM) and Ford began embracing this broader definition in the early 1980s. Ford, under the direction of Donald Peterson, came back from the brink of bankruptcy, with fewer defects per 100 vehicles than Honda and passing GM in profitability. GM, with the help of W. Edwards Deming and Bill Scherkenbach, had similar results, and Cadillac even won the Baldrige award in 1990. In both cases, the efforts were not sustained, and they have fallen back into their old ways.

A true comparison of quality should include leadership, strategic planning, customer focus, measurement, analysis, knowledge management, workforce focus, process management and business results. If you look at specifics in any of these areas, it is clear the domestic automakers have little chance for survival, no matter how big the bailout package.

They must look at how they lead, how they plan and how they deploy plans to every level of the organization (a Japanese CEO would never go to his government to ask for help without a long-term plan). They need to create a customer hierarchy that puts the end user above stockholders and above Mr. Goodwrench. They need to work with employees and unions rather than giving in when times are good and battling in difficult times. They must learn to partner with their suppliers rather than make demands that discourage investment and innovation.

Finally, yes, they must get costs under control—not just the costs mentioned in Edmund’s article, but many other tangible and intangible costs that have gotten out of control since they abandoned their total quality focus.

I am from Detroit, I grew up in the auto industry, and many of my friends and immediate family are dependent on the survival of the domestic automakers. I truly hope they survive.

Bill Osburn
Columbus, OH

What drives quality?

I believe the news item, "The Big Three: Will a Bailout Be Enough?" in the Keeping Current column of January’s issue of QP may be missing the point.

I agree that quality is the most important factor in any auto purchase. But in this case, a lack of concern for the market and not taking the lead in reducing America’s dependence on fossil fuels is costing the taxpayer (the middle class on down) dearly.

A lackadaisical approach by top management to consumer needs is embarrassing. We need to face the fact we are past the tipping point for affordable fossil fuels. Our technology in America lags far behind much smaller countries, simply because we think the world cannot survive without us. I believe we are being proved incorrect in that thinking on a daily basis.

Paul Zakrzewski
Quality assurance manager
Richton Park, IL

Check your terms

I’m sorry to report there are errors in the "Check Sheets" segment of "Building From the Basics" in January’s QP.

Figure 7 and the supporting text are incorrect. What the author describes is a checklist, similar to what you take to the grocery store. A checklist is not one of the seven basic quality tools, nor is a checklist synonymous with check sheet. A check sheet is a tally sheet used primarily to collect data on frequency of occurrence. A check sheet is any blank form used to tally up quality data.1

In the manager of quality/organizational excellence certification course, we make special note of the common confusion in the use of these terms. This is noted in the course’s handbook.2 In addition, there are numerous ASQ Quality Press books and other publications that distinguish between the terms check sheet and checklist.

It's unfortunate the two terms sound so similar. If the original terms had stuck ("tally-sheet" and "check-off list"), we would have no problem.

Russ Westcott
President, R.T. Westcott and Associates
Old Saybrook, CT


  1. Joseph M. Juran, Juran on Leadership for Quality, The Free Press, 1989, p. 348.
  2. Russell T. Westcott (editor), The Certified Manager of Quality/Organizational Excellence Handbook, third edition, ASQ Quality Press, 2005, pp. 332-333.

Author’s response

I certainly appreciate the feedback on my article and the opportunity to offer background on it. There appears to be a position that a check sheet can only be used as a data-collection tool. I have a difficult time accepting that position—that it needs to be all or nothing. This article was written from that position, that a check sheet can be a checklist.

My stance was influenced by two major perspectives. The first is from the position of what I have observed while driving change in the service sector, especially in the IT area of a major financial institution. In the service sector, especially financial institutions, there are basic quality opportunities everywhere. The use of a checklist has been important in many areas.

My second perspective comes from 30-plus years in quality, having been a certified quality engineer for almost 17 of those years. I can’t tell you the last time I used a check sheet as a data-tally sheet (thank you spreadsheets), but I can tell you of the many times the check sheet has been used as a checklist.

While there are numerous ASQ references to the difference between a check sheet and a checklist, QP has set a precedent by publishing an article with a check sheet example with a checklist that is identical to Figure 7.1 In that article, the "Checksheet Questions" found in Table 3 would be called a checklist by Westcott.

Let’s think outside of the box for a few moments. If the completed checklists are collected and the data summarized on a master checklist, then one is completing a check sheet/tally sheet that is actually a checklist. This is a prime example of finding new applications for existing tools. By concentrating on new applications, which quality professionals have always done, one realizes there isn’t a problem after all.

Keith Wagoner


  1. Murray J. Sittsamer, Michael R. Oxley and William O’Hara, "Turbocharge Your Preventive Action System," Quality Progress, November 2007, p. 40.

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